Remembering Father Clarence, OMI

On a foggy winter morning, mourners from across the country gathered at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows to say goodbye to a priest who had given more than seven decades of service to the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Father Clarence Zachman, OMI, passed away January 19 at the age of 103 at the Benedictine Living Community on the grounds of the Shrine in Belleville, Illinois. He was the eldest Missionary Oblate of the 3,500 around the world.

Family, friends and his brother Oblates gathered to pay their respects to Fr. Clarence, who took his First Vows on the solemnity the Assumption in 1943 and was ordained a priest on June 5, 1948.

“The biggest grace God gave him was his gentleness and compassion with everyone who approached Fr. Clarence for counsel or forgiveness,” said Fr. James (Jim) Allen, OMI, who delivered the homily at the funeral Mass. “Even after he moved into assisted living, some people wanted to come to him for confession, and COVID had locked the place down. So Fr. Clarence heard their confession through his window.”

Father Jim had a longstanding relationship with Fr. Clarence, who served as Fr. Jim’s first spiritual director during his time as a seminarian. He said Fr. Clarence was ready to make his journey to God’s Kingdom.

“For years, he told us that was longing to make that journey” Fr. Jim said. “He wasn’t afraid. Like the Apostle Peter, Fr. Clarence could say, ‘Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.’”

Father Clarence was born November 2, 1920, in Rogers, Minnesota, just outside of Minneapolis. After his ordination, his first assignment was as a teacher at Our Lady of the Ozarks College in Carthage, Missouri. Father Clarence had joked, “I didn’t think I would pass from elementary school, and here I was—a teacher.”

In 1961 when American troops began to be deployed in Vietnam, Fr. Clarence felt he should do more to help the young servicemen who were risking their lives overseas. He had read there was a shortage of military chaplains so he went to enlist as one. Because of his age, an act of Congress was needed to allow Fr. Clarence to join the U.S. Air Force. A second act of Congress allowed him to continue past the service limit.

Father Clarence had said the 20 years he served as a military chaplain was a ministry of love, “a love for the service men and women, and for their families. I enjoyed every day of my work.” During those two decades, Fr. Clarence served 10 different assignments for the military, including in Vietnam, Turkey, Japan and Germany.

“Getting settled was not that difficult after the first or second move,” Fr. Clarence had said. “Each had its own peculiarities, its own mission, new regulations to learn and adaptions to make.”

Father Clarence became an expert at adapting. When his military service ended in 1981, he was 61 years old, had earned the rank of lieutenant colonel and was ready for a new challenge.

Those challenges came as chaplain at the Tekakwitha Nursing Home in Sisseton, South Dakota; then as associate pastor in West End Parish in Duluth, Minnesota; and then as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Mountain Grove, Missouri.

In 1989, he came to Our Lady of the Snows where he served as chaplain to the Oblate Apartment Community for five years, then as Superior of the Shrine Community until his retirement in 1998.

“One of the selling points I used in convincing Fr. Clarence to move into assisted living was that he could still be available to the people there who needed a priest to speak with, who needed some consolation,” Fr. James said in his homily. “It was obvious Fr. Clarence still wanted to use his gift of priesthood for others.”

Father Jim concluded his homily by thanking God for the work He did through Fr. Clarence.

“You did a great job with Clarence Zachman. Now take him to Yourself and let him continue to do good by interceding for all of us, his family and his Oblate brothers and sisters,” he said. “Never let us forget his favorite message: Jesus loves you, and so do we.”

Father Clarence was preceded in death by his parents, Louis and Philomena, nee Becker, Zachman; his brothers, Arthur, Raymond, Norbert and Francis; and his sisters, Genieve, Cecilia and Rosalia.

Mourning his passing are his nieces and nephews; residents and staff at the Benedictine Living Community; 3,500 Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate around the world; and all the people Fr. Clarence touched in his 103 years.